Sunday, February 07, 2010

A lazy read - a strong message

Saturday I went with my current guest, Cody LeClaire, to Copán Ruinas, so that he could see the impressive Mayan ruins there, notable for their sculptures.

I have been to the ruins several times with groups and, noting the somewhat steep entry fee for non-Hondurans ($15), I decided not to go in but to walk around the nearby town and also sit down and do some light reading.

Friday night, having finished G. K. Chesterton’s The Amazing Adventures of Father Brown, I picked up a book I’d bought in a San Pedro Sula book store, a Penguin abridged edition of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables.

I know - I should (or should have) read the full version, but I’ve never even sent the musical. And it was the only edition in English I had at hand.

I finished it last night. What a delight. One day I should read the unabridged version.

What first impressed me was the opening portrait of the bishop, Monseigneur Charles-François-Bienvenu Myriel. First of all, the people called him Monseigneur Bienvenu, the Welcoming Bishop, for his hospitality to all, especially the poor.

The bishop has given away almost everything to the poor and only had some silver cutlery and two silver candlesticks.

One night the gives hospitality to Jean ValJean, the released convict who is the protagonist of the novel and who has been unable to find lodging for the night, because of the people’s fear of an ex-con. The bishop treats him with ultimate respect. But Jean’s ingrained habits move him to steal the bishop’s silver.

The next morning, the housekeeper finds the silver stolen and ran to the bishop:
“Monseigneur, the man’s gone! The silver has been stolen!’
The bishop after a moment’s pause turned his grave eyes on her and said gently:
“In the first pace, was it really ours?”
Mm. Magloire stood dumbfounded. After a further silence the bishop went on:
“I think it was wrong to keep it so long. It belonged to the por. And what was that man if not one of them?”
“Saints alive!” exclaimed Mme. Magloire. “Its no on my account or Mademoiselle’s. But Monseigneur – what will Monseigneur eat with now?”
He looked at her in seeming astonishment, “There is always pewter.”
“Pewter smells.”
“Well, then, wooden forks and spoons.
"
That interchange – and what follows when Jean ValJean is brought in by the police – moved me. Not only do I recall that much of the anti-clericalism of the French Revolution was due to a church that favored the rich and considered riches its right and duty, but I have been reading recently in Catholic Social Teaching about the Catholic notion of the universal destination of the goods of this earth and the condemnation of inequality and the breach between the rich and the poor.

In the course of this I ran across this quote from a homily preached to agricultural workers by Pope John Paul II on July 4, 1980, in Recife, Brazil.
The earth is a gift of God, a gift He made for all human beings. men and women, whom He wishes to be united in a single family, connected with each other in a fraternal spirit. Therefore, it is not licit (lawful/just), because it is not in conformity with the design of God, to use that gift in such a way that its benefits favor only a few people, leaving others, the vast majority, excluded.

2 comments:

Tim Malone said...

John,

I find myself coming into deeper and deeper alignment with the most important thinkers of liberation theology, but am puzzled as to where it carries us beyond working hard while here in the states to be able to give to people like you who try to make God's Kingdom present to the very real "poor" in this world, or to go there and live with and among the poor and fight from the ground up. Or is it our call to become politicians that can change these laws? My fears are that as a translator, my role is somewhat uncontroversial and has "hands washed" of all the implications of what liberation theology calls us to.

Hope you are enjoying your time with Cody. Just a thought stemming from my current reading - I got Brackley's book and am much enjoying it, meanwhile I read Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. Interesting what themes classic literature explores - perhaps why it is classic and still relevant!

I also watched a movie rendition of Les Miserables lately, and was struck by it differently than when I saw it on Broadway in NYC. A story of timeless and endless appeal...

God bless you!

John (Juan) Donaghy said...

Tim,

There is a need for liberation of Christians in the States - so that people here and there can be free. Dean Brackley is trying to lead people "of our tribe" to this in "The Call to Discernment in Troubled Times."

I'd also recommend John Kavanaugh's "Following Christ in a Consumer Society".

Don't worry about details but pray for a way to use your gifts for the Kingdom.

Much of what is needed in the US, I believe, is opening eyes to the reality of the world. And translators can help in that.

It's amazing the number of translators and analysts who came out of the woodwork after the June 28 Honduras coup and began translating documents. They helped me and a lot of folks see the reality here in a way distinct from the mainstream press. That's quite a mission!

Enough for now.

Peace and prayers.